LOS ANGELES (AP) — Eric Dickerson can’t wait to take his two youngest children to their first Los Angeles Rams game this fall alongside the same fans who cheered him to the greatest single-season rushing performance in NFL history.
And if the current Rams need advice on the tricky transition from Missouri to Southern California, the Hall of Fame running back has plenty.
“You’re not in St. Louis anymore,” Dickerson said with a laugh. “For all you young guys: It’s different. This is Hollywood.”
Dickerson and former quarterback Jim Everett know all about the challenges and opportunities presented to professional athletes in Los Angeles, and they say the attention will be magnified during the Rams’ high-profile return season after 21 years away.
If the Rams handle it well — and if they win — they’ll absolutely love LA.
“It’s the best to play here,” Everett said. “This is a sports mecca.”
With Kobe Bryant retiring from a terrible Lakers team and the Dodgers lacking a true superstar beyond quiet Clayton Kershaw, Rams running back Todd Gurley, receiver Tavon Austin and defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn are about to become some of the most popular guys in a town that loves a celebrity.
Although the Rams played home games down the road in Anaheim when Dickerson and Everett starred, they dealt with the opportunities and temptations presented in the nation’s entertainment capital and second-largest media market.
“This is a different animal, being in Los Angeles,” Dickerson said. “It just feels different, and I know what it’s like to put that uniform on. Being in LA, there’s nothing like it. It’s the glitz. It’s the glamour. It’s the beautiful girls. It’s the weather. But you’ve got to take your job serious, first of all. You’re a football player first, and all that other stuff comes secondary.”
Everett settled in Southern California after his NFL career, and the Rams’ starting quarterback from 1986-93 greeted Rams executives at their official return last week in Inglewood. He has never stopped signing autographs with an “LA Rams” postscript.
“When I was playing, we had the Lakers with Magic Johnson, we had the Dodgers, and LA loves champions,” Everett said. “There’s high standards, and the Rams are taking a big bite of the pie by moving here. They understand that level of expectation is going to go way up for all of us.”
Dickerson spent the Rams’ return week in Orlando playing in the inaugural Diamond Resorts Invitational celebrity golf tournament, a $500,000 event supporting Florida Hospital for Children. Dickerson finished just behind former Raiders running back Marcus Allen and well behind winner Mardy Fish, the former tennis pro.
But Dickerson’s thoughts were never far from the Rams. Although he made frequent appearances in St. Louis to support the franchise, he firmly believes the Rams never should have left — and he can only shake his head at what might have been.
“Imagine the Rams playing in LA when they were the ‘Greatest Show on Turf,’” Dickerson said, referring to the Super Bowl-winning St. Louis team.
“They would have had to go from practice to the studios to do movies. Everybody loves athletes. Actors want to be athletes, and athletes want to be actors. I hope it becomes like that again.”
The Rams have some work to do first: They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2004 season, and they haven’t had a winning record since 2003.
Although they’ve shaken off the worst five-year stretch in NFL history with just 15 wins from 2007-11, they’ve had nine straight losing seasons heading back to Los Angeles.
Although Warren Beatty played a Rams quarterback in the famed 1978 comedy “Heaven Can Wait,” the Rams’ popularity in Hollywood during their first 49 years in town was limited by their relatively modest success, reaching the Super Bowl just once.
“You’ve got to win,” said Dickerson, whose Rams made the playoffs in each of his four full seasons. “Coming back is one thing, but you’ve got to put a winner on the field.”
Dickerson sees elements of a winner in the current Rams, including one of the NFL’s best defenses. He already knows all about Gurley, who electrified the NFL with 1,106 yards rushing in just 13 games as a rookie.
Dickerson’s 2,105 yards in 1984 still stands as the NFL record, and he expects Gurley to take the mantle.
“I saw him play about a quarter, and I said, ‘Man, this guy can play,’” Dickerson said. “I like the way he cuts. I like the way his first step is.”
Dickerson plans to be around the Rams whenever possible this year. He lives in upscale Calabasas, California, and is excited about passing down his Rams devotion to the next generation — particularly his 10-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
“My son looks at my uniform on the wall and says, ‘Daddy, I want to do that,’” Dickerson said with a laugh. “I say, ‘We’ll see about that.’”